Is It Hard to Get an Internship at the UN? We Find Out

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Doing an internship at the United Nations is one of the best ways to start an international career. UN internships allow you to develop the skills needed start an exciting and prestigious career with the United Nations, as well as building your network across international governments, NGOs and policy makers. However, getting an internship at the United Nations can seem a huge challenge, but how hard is it really to get an internship in the UN?

Internships in the United Nations are competitive and can be difficult to get. Reported success rates of internship applications to the UN are less than 10%. Interning at the UN is very prestigious and, with applicants from all over the world, securing an internship at the UN can be a challenge.

Although getting an internship in the United Nations may be difficult, you can make it easier by focusing on a few key areas such as getting the right qualifications, studying languages and putting in a strong application. It’s also important to remember why you want to work for the UN and be determined to achieve your internship goals.

How Competitive are UN Internships?

Internship positions in the United Nations are generally very competitive. There are several things that can make securing an internship in the UN hard. Firstly, the United Nations receives a lot of applications for internships. Being an intern at the United Nations is seen as a prestigious and exciting start to a career so naturally a lot of people want to be UN interns. However, always remember that someone has to get the position, so put in a strong application and you could be interning at the UN.

Another reason why UN internships can be difficult to get is because they are often seen as a good way to start a long career working for United Nations, and so receive a high number of applicants. UN interns are also often considered to come from top graduate schools and this can make securing an internship seem difficult. Although this can be the case, actually UN interns come from many different backgrounds and have different qualifications, so this should not stop you from applying to be a UN intern.

An internship at the United Nations can also be difficult to get because of the UN application process. The United Nations is well known for requiring complex applications. As well as this, the UN is notorious for taking months to reply to applicants. With that said, if you take time and work hard on a strong and unique application, you have a good chance of getting an United Nations internship.

Internships at the United Nations can also be difficult to get because of the interview process. The UN interviews applicants using a competency-based interview method. This is where the interviewee is asked how their previous experience relates to different requirements for the UN internship. Some UN intern applicants struggle with this kind of interview. However, with practice, it is not so difficult to pass the interview and get an internship in the United Nations.

A final thing that can make UN internships competitive can be the language requirements. The United Nations has six official languages: English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese. Although you do not need to speak these languages to intern for the UN, people who can speak more languages are usually considered stronger applicants for UN internships. Although this is a general rule, do remember that a strong application can offset language requirements, so do not let the fact you only speak one language hold you back from a UN internship.

United Nations internships can also be hard to get because you need a good knowledge of the culture and workings of the UN. The United Nations seeks staff and interns who can prove they align with the values of the UN. The challenge can be conveying this through an internship application and interview, which is another reason why UN internships can be difficult to get. However, if you can strongly show how your own values and experiences connect to those of the United Nations, you can beat the competition and get an internship at the UN.

United Nations Online Courses

If you are interested getting an internship with the United Nations, we highly recommend the online course United Nations Jobs Guide. It’s a great overview of the UN recruitment system and includes valuable tips for anyone looking to build a career within the United Nations. Follow the link to the course’s page.

We also think the United Nations CV and Cover Letter online course is a must for anyone looking to be an intern with the UN. It goes through exactly what is needed when applying for a UN position and provides guidance on what exactly to include. It also shows students what the UN recruitment process is like. Follow the link to get full details on the course.

An important step for those wanting to intern for the United Nations is to get a strong understanding of how the UN works, and what its global role is. We recommend the online course Global Diplomacy: The United Nations in the World offered by SOAS in London. Not only does it give a fantastic overview of the UN, the fact it is offered by SOAS – one of the top colleges in the world for international relations studies, makes it a great addition to the CV of anyone applying for a job at the UN. Click the link for more information.

Is a United Nations Internship Worth It?

Most people who complete an internship with the United Nations would say it was worth it. Interning at the UN gives you extensive experience in a global organisation working to improve the world. Completing a United Nations internship can also help launch a career in many competitive industries such as international relations, diplomacy or humanitarian aid, and this is another reason why many consider UN internships to be worth it.

However, although the majority of people who intern at the United Nations would consider the experience worth it, it is important to remember that UN internships are not paid. Therefore, to intern at the United Nations you need to be able to financially support yourself. This can be a challenge and it is important to consider if you can afford to complete a UN internship. If a UN internship will cause you financial problems, it may not be worth it and you should consider launching your international career through more study or entry-level jobs.

There are many reasons why an internship at the UN is worth the financial challenge, as well as the difficulty in applying. People who complete internships at the United Nations begin their careers with experience in a prestigious, international organisation. It is worth interning at the UN to gain knowledge of international relations and to develop skills such as in public policy or international development. Many people also consider the contacts and network they build while interning at the United Nations to be worth doing an internship there.

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Do UN Internships Lead to Jobs?

There is no guarantee of a job in the United Nations after doing a UN internship. Although not everyone who completes a UN internship will go on to work in the United Nations, interning in the UN is a great way to build relevant skills for a UN career. A UN internship will also give you a strong understanding of UN culture and values which can help you get future UN employment. Another way a UN internship can lead to a job is that it allows you to build a large network within the UN that can help you get a job when you finish your internship.

Another way that doing a United Nations internship can lead to a job is that the UN often hires people who have previous experience in the UN. Like a lot of international organisations, job candidates with previous internship or work experience are often seen as preferential when hiring for jobs and so this is a way that doing an UN internship can help you get a job in the United Nations.

However, although doing an internship in the United Nations can definitely help you get a job, it is important to note that the majority of people who work for the UN have not completed UN internships. The majority of people who work for the UN have gained professional experience outside of the United Nations and then used the skills they have developed to transfer to the UN. Although doing an internship in the UN can lead to a job, if you have not done a UN internship, focus on building skills and knowledge the UN needs and you will soon secure a job with the United Nations.

If you want to learn more about the United Nations, and why to get a UN internship, explore our list of the top UN online courses here.


Duncan is the founder of Humanitarian Careers. With over ten years experience in the aid industry across fifteen countries, Duncan set-up Humanitarian Careers to help people launch their own career in international aid.